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Houston County Courier - Local News

Copyright 2017 - Polk County Publishing Company

 

Serenity Place Temporarily Closing

 

By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter
reporter@hccourier.com

Serenity Place, Inc.'s residential treatment facility in Crockett is temporarily closing, due primarily to staffing difficulties, according to Chris Brown, one of the facility's owners and program director. Brown told the Courier in an interview Friday, Sept. 22, the facility will close after Child Protective Services (CPS) staffers complete moving the final 13 teen male residents from the facility. He said the CPS will probably complete the process of moving the boys next Friday, Sept. 29. He anticipates reopening the facility around Nov. 1. Brown said Serenity Place executives met with CPS officials in Austin Monday, Sept. 11, and mutually agreed to close the facility because of concerns about the facility's staff and related matters. "While we have had some successes in Crockett, we have also had some serious issues," Brown wrote in a text message to the Courier. "Namely, several kids have been injured during fights. The concern was that our current staff is too inexperienced to manage high risk kids. "We were given the option of dropping our license and reorganizing and reapplying after submitting an approved improvement plan. We will begin working with a consultant to address our deficiencies and recruit staff committed to serving vulnerable kids." In the interview, Brown said, "We are going to temporarily close. What we did was we pulled our licensing application. What that means is we had applied for a permanent license. That license had not yet been granted. "While we were in the temporary licensing phase, we decided to pull the application (for the permanent license). Basically, to get your permanent license, you have to demonstrate for six straight months total compliance (with state regulations). "We have been in a situation where, over the summer months, we had several injuries from incidents. We had kids fighting. We had a kid kick (another) kid in the ribs. The kids are very volatile. We also had a situation where a staff (member) hit a kid with an extension cord, which was a serious abuse issue. "We had a situation where two night-shift people left the dorm where they were assigned and left the campus, leaving the kids unattended. We had three kids go AWOL. They (CPS officials) have concerns about the boys being hurt. And so do we." Brown added, "We were working with the state. They had some serious concerns about our staff, the people we hired. So, many of our issues are self-inflicted by our staffing just making bonehead decisions—saying (unsavory) things to kids, just those kinds of things. It's staffing decisions, poor judgment, poor decision making in managing kids' behavior. So, the State of Texas had serious issues with the people we hired. "Sadly, we have the right number of staff (members). Our documentation shows staff have been trained. We just haven't gotten the production from the staff necessary to ensure kids' safety. "We brought in multiple outside trainers and trained the Crockett staff four times as much as our Houston staff, but we just can't seem to get the production that we need out of the staffing. So we made a decision with the State of Texas that we were going to pull our application. We are going to close temporarily and reorganize. "Part of the reorganization is that we've got to reach farther out in terms or our hiring and our staffing. So, we set up job fairs in Palestine, Huntsville, Lovelady and Lufkin (for this week) to try to lure more staff in. We've also contracted with another consultant to come in to take a look at what we're doing in terms of training and who we're hiring and see if we can do it differently. "But, part of the problem that they (CPS officials) have identified and we've identified is that we have a culture where people negatively support each other, meaning we have relations, we have family ties, friendships that negatively impact the staff's ability to make good decisions. "People know the rules. They know what they're supposed to do and not supposed to do, but the staff failed to hold each other accountable and really won't point out things that staff (members) are doing that are counter to the policies and procedures, and thus present dangers to kids. "...So, we've got to take a look at those who we think can remain productive and bring in some others and kind of dilute some of that culture that exists." Brown continued, "The school (John H. Wood Jr. Charter School), which has a branch at Serenity Place, is on board with us (and is going to assist in the training). "We expect that we're going to be closed between two weeks and a month. "We can't close until the state finishes moving all of the kids. I expect that they are probably going to be moved by next Friday (Sept. 29). Realistically, I expect to reopen Nov. 1. That's kind of a tentative date we've set. "That would give us time to (hold the job fairs planned this week and hopefully get new people in) and get two and a half really good weeks of training with the staff and then be ready to reopen Nov. 1." He said there were about 13 boys at the facility as of Friday, Sept. 22, down from 57 who resided at the facility at one time. CPS has been having them removed from the facility over the last two weeks. "The difficulty (in removing the boys from Serenity Place and placing them elsewhere) is that these are difficult-to-place kids," Brown explained. "...There are very few facilities in Texas that can receive them. So, they (CPS staffers) are really having to work to find placements for them (the residents of the facility)." As for he and his wife and co-owner Wanda Brown, Brown said, "We're frustrated because we've been trying so hard. We've put case managers in the dorms. We have ample staff; we're overstaffed. We have a really low kids-to-staff ratio—one to three—which is very low. "And we're still struggling with some of the decisions the staff are making—not properly supervising kids, not properly intervening before kids fight, those kinds of things. You can train, train, train. But, at some point, the people actually have to do their jobs. That's the frustrating part. We have the staff. They're just not anticipating and intervening early enough."

 

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